a fragment

Yuri’s room was sparsely decorated; a bed, a suitcase of clothes, a pile of books in various languages stacked neatly in the corner. He had lived there for some time, at least half of his years since slipping down to the Last City, but what ornamentation or personality the room possessed was not through any act of Yuri himself.

A well-dusted wedding photo in a simple tin frame sat upon the windowsill. It portrayed a young man, no more than twenty, with a woman of similar age or perhaps a little younger. Yuri knew little of pre-Revolutionary military regalia, but the uniform and medals proudly emblazoned on the young man’s chest marked him as a low-ranking Imperial officer – perhaps an Unteroffizier or Praporshchik. There appeared little love lost between the groom and his admittedly rather plain bride. His lips were parted slightly, nostrils flared and eyes shining – Yuri thought, from drink. Her mouth was drawn tight as if reacting to some hidden slight, her hooded eyes staring distastefully through the camera lens.

Having looked at the photograph regularly – during the obliviating winter months, evem obsessively studied it like some apparatchik poring over a bureaucratic tome – Yuri could describe every mote of expression on their twinned faces. In more imaginative moods, he would ascribe names and personalities to their faces. On some nights, the groom an honour-bound son of minor noble, she a simple farmer’s daughter. On headier evenings, He became a murdering jackdaw or Menshevik infilitrator, She a tempestuous Jewess-cum-Mata Hari.

The photograph, along with a damaged Nagant revolver under the bed and a pre-Mechanical icon grimly nailed to the wall, had belonged to the room’s previous tenant. The three items had been there the first night he arrived at the Hotel, and a rare moment of self-reflection at his newfound situation – brought on by a series of particularly brutal rounds of Durak which saw him lose, in order, his drink, money, and boots to a canny longshoreman named Mykola Pavlovich – caused Yuri to impulsively leave the room near-to-exactly as it had been. The memories of someone else’s bad marriage, he had figured at the time, were better than no memory at all. Yuri had, after all, no past of his own that he wished to embrace.

Yuri had not shown the photograph to anyone else, preferring his numerous fictions, self-defeatingly circuitous as they may be, to any imposed reality. He suspected that, regardless of the story contained within the frame, it had come to an end in Hotel Bakunin’s rear hallway, somewhere amongst the frantic stippling of bullet holes, the drag-marks and dark, aged stains.

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